IBM – ‘Insha’llah, ‘Bukra,’ & ‘Ma’lesh’ (“God willing,” “Tomorrow,” & “No Matter”) – Misconceptions about these Three Arabic Words - Arab America (2022)

posted on: Apr 4, 2018

By John Mason/Arab America Contributing Writer

When my family and I arrived in Cairo, my new American colleagues at the university where I’d be teaching were tossing about the acronym ‘IBM,’ as if it were a bromide all their ills of living in a new, different cultural environment. Besides denoting the acronym of the behemoth, International Business Machines, for these Americans it had a slightly pejorative connotation. To them, IBM denoted the three words, Insha’llah, ‘Bukra,’ and ‘Ma’lesh, which roughly translate, respectively, as “God willing,” “tomorrow” and “no matter.” In concert, these three concepts captured most of their frustrations of living in a new culture in which the daily rhythm of life contrasted starkly with what they were used to back home. Even when used lightheartedly, the Americans were expressing their difficulties of working, living and basically getting things done in Egypt.

IBM – ‘Insha’llah, ‘Bukra,’ & ‘Ma’lesh’ (“God willing,” “Tomorrow,” & “No Matter”) – Misconceptions about these Three Arabic Words - Arab America (1)

IBM, the company, and the acronym on which Insha’llah, ‘Bukra,’ and ‘Ma’lesh are based

Use of the Term, Insha’llah

The ‘I’ of IBM thus stood for insha’llah, in Arabic, إن شاء الله‎. It’s an expression for “God willing” or “if God wills”. The phrase is commonly used by Muslims in general but also Christian Arabs to express an intention or a hope, something one believes may occur in the future. The religious idea behind it is that everything a person does is based on the belief that nothing will happen unless it is willed by Allah. God’s will, thus transcends human will.

IBM – ‘Insha’llah, ‘Bukra,’ & ‘Ma’lesh’ (“God willing,” “Tomorrow,” & “No Matter”) – Misconceptions about these Three Arabic Words - Arab America (2)

Arabic script for Insha’llah

The use of insha’llah, when spoken in common parlance, can express the belief that nothing happens unless God wills it. In this sense, if nothing indeed happens, then the individual uttering it can hypothetically avoid responsibility. But it is also a social convention which may not involve much forethought, as when English speakers in ending a conversation might say, “we’ll talk soon” or I’ll see you soon,” but with little specificity about when that might be, if at all. When used excessively, insha’llah can be interpreted as someone shirking her or his responsibility.

When it comes to Egyptian government services, such as getting a driving license or a passport, you hear the use of insha’llah all day long. This is because the bureaucracy, which has traditionally been overridden by underemployed, underpaid staff, has seen itself as the arbiter of services the public depends on. Often a bureaucrat would expectbakshish or a relatively small amount of money given for services rendered, as by a carpark attendant or tipping a waiter. (The Government of Egypt has more recently introduced the practice of ‘portals’ or ‘one-stop-shops’ to reduce the bureaucracy of providing services and thus expedite and make more transparent its and the public’s business.) When we lived in Cairo, Egyptians might spend hours waiting for government approval for this request or that, usually at the Mogamma, the monumental edifice just off the central, Tahrir Square. It is jammed with hundreds of offices on several floors. There, an individual’s day might be spent moving from one office to the next, upstairs and downstairs, for hours on end, just to get a simple piece of paper. No wonder there were reports of suicides at the Mogamma, which because of its height, served as a jumping off point for desperate souls.

IBM – ‘Insha’llah, ‘Bukra,’ & ‘Ma’lesh’ (“God willing,” “Tomorrow,” & “No Matter”) – Misconceptions about these Three Arabic Words - Arab America (3)

Cairo’s Mogamma, the government admin building for many services such as passports, business licenses, has been rumored to be closing

“Trust in Allah, but Tie your Camel”

This phrase, Trust in Allah, but tie your camel, from the reported sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, has become an Arab proverb. It teaches that one’s trust in some highersource must be accompanied by individual diligence. The incident that sparked the Prophet’s words is the following:“…one day Mohammed noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it. He asked the Bedouin, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I placed my trust in Allah.” At that, Mohammed said, “Tie your camel and place your trust in Allah.”

IBM – ‘Insha’llah, ‘Bukra,’ & ‘Ma’lesh’ (“God willing,” “Tomorrow,” & “No Matter”) – Misconceptions about these Three Arabic Words - Arab America (4)

This parable teaches that one’s trust in some higher source must be accompanied by individual diligence

This phrase is equivalent to the English, “God helps those who help themselves,” which underscores the importance of self-initiative or self-help.

In any case, my American colleagues meant no offense in their use of the IBM acronym. Rather, they used it as a colloquialism that captured some of their frustrations of living in a culture very different from their own. In that sense, they did not have any deep understanding of the significance of the words themselves comprising IBM.

Use of the Term Bukra

Bukra, in Arabic, بكرة, is just a bit ‘easier’ to grasp than either insha’llah or ma’lesh. It is used in some ways like the Spanish mañana, that is, as in an event “in the future” but not necessarily the very next day. It denotes that a task, for example, will be finished “later, not now, and probably not the next day.” In this sense bukra is often elided with insha’llah, as in the commonly used phrase, bukra insha’llah. For some foreigners, this may translate as, “oh, jeez, when will it ever happen!”

There is an Arabic proverb that expresses another usage of Bukra. ‘Bukra f’il mish-mish’ is an Arabic idiom and proverb meaning “[you can have] apricots tomorrow.” Its colloquial meaning is that “it will never happen.” Literally, apricots bloom so quickly that the fruit is only really tasty after it’s immediately picked; the day after, it turns mushy and grainy. The saying is comparable in English to “when pigs fly.” Bukra f’il mish-mish, implies, then, “let it go, it’s not going to happen.”

Use of the Term Ma’lesh

The Arabic word ma’lesh, معلش, in its colloquial usage, shares some of the issues as its cousin, insha’llah. It can be used in the sense of “no matter,” “never mind” – but it can also imply a certain sense of slackness, that someone hasn’t tried hard enough. In its social sense, ma’lesh is used as a word of encouragement or comfort when something has not quite worked out for someone. Or it may be used to console someone, as in “forgive me.” In its deepest religious sense, as I understand it, the response ma’lesh implies that, “I have diligently tried to accomplish an activity but ultimately its success rests in the hands of Allah” or “I have done everything I can to complete an act, but now it’s in God’s hands.”

Illustrative of the use of ma’lesh occurred once while I was taking a very crowded bus, a so-called express, from downtown Cairo to the island of Zamalak. It was a very warm, humid summer day, with practically no movement of air. A passenger had apparently snuck on without paying his/her fare, driving the bus driver into a state of rage. The driver tried to come back through the bus to find the culprit, but it was so glutted with passengers, he couldn’t budge. Some of the passengers began to complain loudly that the driver needed to get back in his seat and drive the bus, at least to get some air moving through the open windows and avoid possible suffocation. Getting to where we were going, at this point, seemed secondary.

IBM – ‘Insha’llah, ‘Bukra,’ & ‘Ma’lesh’ (“God willing,” “Tomorrow,” & “No Matter”) – Misconceptions about these Three Arabic Words - Arab America (5)

Typical Cairo bus of bygone days, where the author heard for the first time, use of the phrase, “no ma’lesh!”

In any case, a woman passenger tried to calm her irate fellow passengers by saying the situation was no one’s fault, ma’lesh. A nearby passenger, a middle-aged man, replied in an angry, harsh tone, “maafi ma’lesh—meaning “no or not ma’lesh!” I’d never heard that phrase before—how could there be “no ma’lesh? This told me that the use of the term was being employed in very different ways by the two passengers. The first was attempting to use it to console, to lower the level of anger, while the second was using it by negating it to express blame, to say the situation could have been avoided (he didn’t say how). When the angry one said, “no ma’lesh,” passengers around him, including myself, smiled, chuckled, since to negate the possibility of the word itself seemed to turn things on their head. If there was no ma’lesh, there’d be no recognition that Allah has dominion over everything, no forgiveness, no consoling. In the end, the ‘cheater’ got his/her ‘free ride,’ which in its own way, I guess, turned out to be the “Will of Allah.”

IBM turned out to be a gloss for how foreigners could construct their sense of the reality of life in Egypt. While that construct, in my eyes, was demeaning, it did allow them to cope in their own way. More time in-country, more cultural learning and perhaps more effort to learn Arabic could enrich their sense of what it’s like to be Egyptian, to be Arab, and to be Muslim. Would that beasking too much?

John Mason, an anthropologist specializing in Arab culture and society, is the author of recently-published LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, 2017, New Academia Publishing. This article is adapted in part from his book.

FAQs

What does bukra Inshallah mean? ›

'Bukra inshallah' is something everyone in Saudi Arabia will hear every so often. In other words, 'inshallah bukra' means it's not. gonna. happen. Person saying it is well aware of this but lets just say 'inshallah' if a miracle were to occur and the it would actually happen!

What is bukra Arabic? ›

بكرة • (bukra) tomorrow.

What does IBM mean Arabic? ›

The 'I' of IBM thus stood for insha'llah, in Arabic, إن شاء الله‎. It's an expression for “God willing” or “if God wills”. The phrase is commonly used by Muslims in general but also Christian Arabs to express an intention or a hope, something one believes may occur in the future.

What is the difference between Mashallah and inshallah? ›

The literal meaning of Mashallah is "what God has willed", in the sense of "what God has willed has happened"; it is used to say something good has happened, used in the past tense. Inshallah, literally "if God has willed", is used similarly but to refer to a future event.

What does Khali Wali mean? ›

khali wali

Translation: let it be/ forget about it/ whatever.

What does Yanny mean in Arabic? ›

Yaani is the Arabic word for “means”, but it also can be used as “umm”, “er” or “you know, like”. Here are some examples: “Yaani, you wouldn't have to do this until you do that”; “I have finished my homework, yaani, I can do whatever I want now.”

What Habibi mean? ›

New Word Suggestion. This Arabic term means 'beloved';term of endearment used casually between friends, like buddy, and also between lovers, the tone it's used in gives away the intended meaning.

How do you say Yani in Arabic? ›

How to Pronunce Yani' (يانع) in Arabic - Voxifier.com - YouTube

What should I reply after mashallah? ›

Mashallah used in a sentence and reply:

There is no one right response to someone who says Mashallah to you. But if they are saying it an a way to share in your joy, accomplishment, or achievement then you can respond by saying Jazak Allahu Khayran which means “may Allah reward you”.

Why do Muslims always say inshallah? ›

The expression inshallah means "if God wills" and is used by Muslims whenever they express their hopes for the future. It serves as a reminder of God's control over the future, as well as mankind's inability to change what is destined.

Are Allah and God the same? ›

Allah and the god of the Bible

Allah is usually thought to mean “the god” (al-ilah) in Arabic and is probably cognate with rather than derived from the Aramaic Alaha. All Muslims and most Christians acknowledge that they believe in the same god even though their understandings differ.

What is the meaning of Yalla in Arabic? ›

One of the most common Arabic words used, yallah means “let's go” or “come on” and is frequently used by all nationalities in the Middle East to mean that you want something to happen or want things to keep moving along.

What are some cool Arabic words? ›

10 Arabic Words That Sound So Beautiful They Sound Like Music To The Ears
  • Ya Amar (يا قمر) Meaning: “My moon” or “My most beautiful” ...
  • Firdaus (فردوس) Meaning: Paradise. ...
  • Al naaem(النعيم) Meaning: Bliss. ...
  • Ishq (عشق) Meaning: A never ending love. ...
  • Amal (أمل‎) ...
  • Noor (نور‎) ...
  • Ya Rouhi (يا روحي‎) ...
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3 Oct 2018

What's the difference between Habibi and Habibti? ›

8. Habibi (male) and habibti (female) Both mean darling, and can be used with friends and good colleagues. It is one of the most widely used terms of endearments in the region, and chances are they are the first Arabic words learned by a new arrival.

What does ya mean in Arabic? ›

Definition. The phrase means "O [name]". The word yā indicates the vocative case, signifying a direct address to a person. It is a common prefix used by Arabic speakers before personal names.

What does Zam Zam mean in Arabic? ›

Proper noun. Zamzam. An Islamic holy well in Mecca, supposed to have been miraculously generated by Allah when Abraham's infant son Ishmael was crying for water.

Is Yanny a word? ›

Yanny is derived from the Latin word yanerious meaning both "frenzy" and "word with many sounds." It shares a Greek root, daphne, with words including laurel.

Why do Arabs say Habibi? ›

Habibi is an Arabic word that literally means “my love” (sometimes also translated as “my dear,” “my darling,” or “beloved.”) It is used primarily as a pet name for friends, significant others, or family members.

What is Shukran Habibi? ›

What does Shukran Habibi mean? 'Shukrn Habibi', in Arabic 'شكرا حبيبي', means “thanks, my love”. However, Habibi / habibti are the most common expressions. They don't imply a romantic meaning among speakers.

Is Habibi a Hebrew? ›

Habibi is an Arabic word that has been in the vernacular of the Arabic-speaking world for a long time. Just as Yiddishisms like mensch have seeped into English, so too has habibi seeped into Hebrew and the vernacular of some American Jews. Habibi is the ultimate term of endearment.

What does wallahi mean in Arabic? ›

(Islam) Alternative form of wallah. (MTE, slang) I swear to God; used to add emphasis.

What is the most famous Arabic word? ›

Inshallah. Probably one of the most well-known Arabic words because of how commonly it is used, the word “inshallah” means “God willing”, but most people will use it in the context of meaning “maybe” or “I'm not sure, it's out of my hands”.

What is the best Arabic word? ›

Here are only some of those words and their meanings.
...
26 Of The Most Beautiful Words In The Arabic Language
  • Al-mughamghem (المغمغمِ) ...
  • Yatawahaj (يتوهّجُ) ...
  • Al-sarab (السَّرَاب) ...
  • Oumad (أومض) ...
  • Nahnahtoh (نهنهتهُ) ...
  • Ablaj (أَبْلَجَ) ...
  • Eghtabat (اغتبط)
15 Nov 2017

What does malesh mean in Arabic? ›

The origins of the term are too complex to explain here, but the basic meaning is: "There's nothing to it"; in English, it is widely translated as "never mind." In my native Egypt, we often use it sympathetically, in the sense of "that's tough," or "never you mind," or "there, there." But it also frequently serves as a ...

What do you reply to Alhamdulillah? ›

When any one of you sneezes and says 'alhamdulillah [praise be to Allah]', it becomes obligatory upon every Muslim who hears him to respond with: “Yarhamuk Allah [may Allah have mercy on you]'.

What does Ya Ni mean? ›

When used as an elaborator, ya'ni is the Arabic equivalent of "for example" (or meaning). Chief executives appreciate this use of ya'ni because it helps them cut to the chase and get to the heart of the matter. If someone is being long-winded, a pointed ya'ni at them will remind them to get to the point.

What is Arabic of Ampalaya? ›

طنجة باللغة العربية Last Update: 2020-04-26.

What does Anas mean in Arabic? ›

In Muslim Baby Names the meaning of the name Anas is: Affection. Love. A group of people (as opposed to other creatures).

What is Afwan in English? ›

Afwan = You're Welcome. Inshallah = God Willing (you will often hear this in response to anything tentative, when timing is in question, etc.)

What is your name Arabic? ›

what is your name? ما هو اسمك؟

What do Muslims say before eating? ›

When meal is ready: "Allahumma barik lana fima razaqtana waqina athaban-nar. " (Translation: O God! Bless the food You have provided us and save us from the punishment of the hellfire.) While starting to eat: bismillah ("In the name of God")

What do Muslims say when you sneeze? ›

This supplication for sneezing was pulled from Hadith Al Bukhari #6224: Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (pbuh) said, ” If anyone of you sneezes, he should say 'Al-Hamduli l-lah' (Praise be to Allah). His (Muslim) brother or companion should say to him, 'Yar-hamuka-l-lah' (May Allah bestow his Mercy on you).

What is the reply for Mashallah? ›

Mashallah used in a sentence and reply:

There is no one right response to someone who says Mashallah to you. But if they are saying it an a way to share in your joy, accomplishment, or achievement then you can respond by saying Jazak Allahu Khayran which means “may Allah reward you”.

Is Yani a girl or boy name? ›

Yani thus belongs to the gender-neutral unisex names.

Is Yanny a word? ›

Yanny is derived from the Latin word yanerious meaning both "frenzy" and "word with many sounds." It shares a Greek root, daphne, with words including laurel.

What does wallah mean in Lebanese? ›

1. Wallah = I swear/by God. والله Wallah literally means “I swear to God,” and it is sure to come up in conversation way more times than you can count. Wallah, I promise I'm not lying!

What is pumpkin Arabic? ›

قَرع (Translation of pumpkin from the Cambridge English-Arabic Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

What is Karuf in English? ›

craze, silliness, credulity, nonsense, folly.

What's zucchini in Tagalog? ›

Meaning of Zucchini in Tagalog is : pipino.

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